Kate's Blog

Jul 21

Garden for the Rusty-patched Bumblebee: this book's a winner!

There’s a small pile of books on a table by my desk - the writers are my go-to references for garden questions. Heather Holm, Doug Tallamy and the late Henry Koch are my guides, and of course Lorraine Johnson, whose 100 Easy-to-Grow Native Plants has been by my side since its publication in 1999.

Now Johnson, along with co-author York University professor Sheila Colla, has produced another winner: A Garden for the Rusty-patched Bumblebee - Creating Habitat for Native Pollinators (Douglas & McIntyre) is a wonderful introduction to the world of our pollinating friends.

Like so many other insects, the Rusty-patched is a bee that was once abundant across eastern Canada and North America and is now in steep decline. In Canada, the last individual was found, by Colla, in 2009 at Pinery Provincial Park. In 2012 it had the “unfortunate distinction” of becoming the first native bee to be designated as endangered in Canada.
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May 16

15 plants that work for bees and other pollinators

I wrote this for the Tiny Cottager magazine, with a particular focus on the sandy conditions in which cottagers garden. There are many more great pollinator plants than the 15 in the downloadable list at the end of this article! But they are a good start. 

About 10 per cent of flowering plants are wind-pollinated but the overwhelming majority rely on insects for the process that results in fertilization, seed production and future generations. Bees are the essential pollinators, designed for the efficient transfer of pollen grains from one flower to another. 

There are more than 400 species of native bees in Ontario. Of these, only the 16 species of bumble bees live together in colonies. The rest are solitary bees, the female nesting in sparsely vegetated soil, hollow stems, twigs or wood cavities. Not being territorial, solitary bees are unlikely or not equipped to sting.

The European honey bee was introduced and competes with native bees for floral resources. It can sting, but won’t unless provoked.

Recent research indicates that the pollination role of moths, with their hairy underbellies, has been underestimated. Most moths are nocturnal. Artificial light at night adversely affects all insect populations, but especially moths. Butterflies tend to be incidental pollinators, only lightly contacting pollen when they sip up nectar. There are exceptions – one, cited by Heather Holm in Pollinators of Native Plants, is the Peck’s Skipper butterfly, the primary pollinator of Prairie Phlox. 
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Mar 25

Want to know if a plant for sale is native? I have a list for you

Earlier this year, I spoke to the Midland-Huronia Probus Club about growing native plants, the importance of and how to. It was a good crowd, with people who posed many interesting questions. But there was one for which I didn’t have a ready answer. How does one know if a plant is native? a gentleman asked.

My immediate reply was, look it up, do the research, get educated, the information is all out there on the web. But I realized, that really isn’t good enough. When it comes to a plant that's for sale, it's important information that should be readily available - ideally, included right on the label. I think that will happen as awareness of ecosystem issues increases among gardeners and the trade responds to demand.

In the meantime - what to do? My nursery plant list is not a good resource because it only has what I happen to have currently on sale, and while all are native to Eastern North America, some have a range that stops south of the Great Lakes. See this blog on assisted migration for my reasoning. So - I have made another list, not a list of all Ontario native plants, just the ones you may find for sale at mainstream or specialist nurseries in this province. It is downloadable, you can put it on your phone so you have it to hand when you’re at a garden centre. Follow this link to Is it native?

The Doug Tallamy rule of thumb is that a garden with at least 70 per cent native trees, shrubs, perennials and other plants will support bees, butterflies, birds and other wildlife. Tallamy is an entomologist at the University of Delaware who has been very influential in changing our views around the purpose of a garden, and what it should look like. For more information, check out his book Nature’s Best Hope.
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